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Happy Feet (11/29/2006)
By David Robinson
So what are the odds that two of my favorite movies of the past couple of years would be about"”penguins? With the emergence of Happy Feet on the heels (so to speak) of last year's"¯March of the Penguins,"¯ audiences have another genuine "family"¯ movie, one that will appeal to various segments in various levels. Kids will like the chase sequences and pratfalls, adults will dig some of the old pop songs on the soundtrack, and all ages will be impressed by yet another stunning example of contemporary animation art.

A witty screenplay, written in part by director George Miller, covers the early life and hard times of Mumble, penguin whose father accidentally drops him while he's still in the egg. The resultant disaster is that Mumble can't sing, like all the other young birds. And if you can't sing your authentic "heartsong"¯-- well, you're just not a real penguin. No matter that the lad's a dancin' fool from the get go; the other Emperor penguins may have rhythm, but not in their toes. Mumble, voiced by Elijah Wood of "Lord of the Rings"¯ fame, has to leave his tribe and, ultimately (a la Frodo), embark on his own quest. His parents, Memphis (Hugh Jackman) and Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) are both distraught at their "different"¯ offspring's fate. But they are powerless to overcome the suspicion and lockstep conformity of the rest of the flock, especially the gloom and doom elders, who even blame the lack fish on this little stranger.

Happily, Mumble early on meets a gang of five exceedingly hip Latino-tinged Adele penguins, led by the egotistical, slap-happy Ramon (Robin Williams). These five amigos take the Big Guy in, expressing admiration for his flying feet. He further endears himself when he outswims a vicious leopard seal They take him to their spiritual leader, Lovelace (Williams again, this time channeling Barry White), who is at first no help in resolving Mumble's problem. Ultimately, though, he inadvertently proves the catalyst that re-unites Mumble with his folks, his tribe, and his true love, Gloria (Brittany Murphy).

Along the way back homeward, he meets those strange aliens who have caused the Antarctic avians so much trouble: human beings. The movie's ecological concerns come forth more strongly here, and the animated and live actors blend nicely, all but seamlessly. The well over a thousand technicians involved in the creation of this film deserve huge credit for the painstaking re-creation of a world, a job so skillfully done that one occasionally forgets he is watching animation

But it's the clever script, the intelligently worked musical soundtrack, and the universal appeal of the story that will make this into a holiday hit this year, as well as excellent gift when it comes out on DVD next year. It's rated "PG"¯ for "mild peril and rude humor,"¯ but I can't think of anything that will endanger youngster's moral growth. Quite the opposite, as it teaches respect and toleration for difference, care for the environment, and the power of individual commitment"”all while being immensely entertaining and amusing. 


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